New novel published

Posted on: December 9th, 2017 by Eleanor Johnston No Comments

Now available in kindle and paperback at Amazon.com


Shaking Parkinson’s

Posted on: November 22nd, 2017 by Wayne Fraser No Comments

We are pleased to announce that Michael Terence Publishing, UK, will be publishing Eleanor’s fourth novel, Shaking Parkinson’s! We are tremendously excited. Thanks to Colin B. for suggesting that Eleanor submit her latest story to MTP.


The People’s Pope

Posted on: October 28th, 2017 by Wayne Fraser No Comments

We happened on an intriguing and ultimately challenging film, available through Netflix as a 4-part mini-series. The 2015 Italian film, Chiamatemi Francesco, is about the life of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, an Argentine youth who liked playing soccer, reading and scholarship, who became a priest, a Bishop, a Cardinal, and ultimately Pope Francis.

The musical score will make you want to tango. Change the audio setting for an English version. Call me Francis focuses on the years of Argentina’s ‘Dirty War’ when the ruling military junta dealt with opposition through arrest, torture and murder. Thousands of people ‘disappeared’ under this oppression.

The character of Bergoglio faces a crisis of conscience during these violent years, as he is called to protect people and priests under his care while staying alive himself. To help two priests who have disappeared risked the ire of the junta, as well as his religious superiors. Not to help, to remain silent, risked the guilt of complicity.

This central conflict in the film’s portrayal of Bergoglio echoes that of Jesus against the religious and political oppressors of his time. Jesus knew that his words and actions would lead to arrest, torture and crucifixion, but the call of God’s kingdom led him to Jerusalem and confrontation with the authorities.

Actor Rodrigo de la Serna conveys the spiritual agony of this future Pope as he is forced to navigate between his calling as a priest and the realpolitik of Argentine society. At one moment, he celebrates Mass for the ruling general and dares to ask for the restoration of the disappeared, and, again by celebrating Mass, he helps the poor rescue their humble homes from destruction by developers and police.

The challenge for us, from the film as well as our Lord, is to follow the way of justice in our time. We are free in Canada to speak against injustice without fear of death squads. But are we too often silent, thereby complicit with the status quo that keeps so many oppressed and impoverished?

By taking the name Francis, the Pope aligns himself with the mystic of Assisi who lived for God’s Kingdom among the marginalized. Call me Francis dramatizes Jorge Bergoglio’s call to follow this same path. We hope the People’s Pope continues to develop his commitment to the wellbeing of all nature as well as all humanity.

by Eleanor Johnston and Wayne Fraser, originally published in the October 2017 issue of Niagara Anglican, p. 2.

https://niagaraanglican.ca/newspaper/docs/2017/oct.pdf


Hear me Rohr

Posted on: May 17th, 2017 by Wayne Fraser No Comments

Many in the Diocese of Niagara may know Richard Rohr from his book Falling Upward, Bishop Michael’s 2014 selection as his Lenten book. However, you may not be aware that you can receive daily meditations in your email inbox from Rohr. We find these daily readings uplifting and inspiring.

Rohr is a Franciscan monk, founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico. As our Diocesan website explains, “Drawing from his own Franciscan heritage and other wisdom traditions, Richard Rohr reframes neglected or misunderstood teachings to reveal the foundations of contemplative Christianity and the universe itself: God as loving relationship.” Rohr advocates the meditation tradition of Christianity, what he names the Perennial Tradition, for it is found across all religions.

Through contemplative silence, one enters the presence of Presence, one is able to hear the still small voice of God. Rohr explains, “In a silent posture of self-emptying, we let go of habitual thoughts and sensations and connect with an Inner Witness—God’s presence within—that gazes back at ourselves and out at reality with an Abiding Love.”

Without contemplative practice, Rohr asserts, religion becomes the “repetition of rote, wordy prayers, and attendance at social prayer.” Through regular periods of contemplation, one enjoys an experiential relationship with Divine Presence. True transformation, what John the Baptist called baptism “with fire and the spirit,” and Jesus termed rebirth “from above,” becomes a reality in each human heart and soul.

Without such personal transformation, we are left with defensive barriers against others unlike our own kind, and we focus on “externals and non-essentials.”

Rohr tells the story of Trappist monk Thomas Merton, one of the first in the 1950s and ‘60s to teach the contemplative practice lost over the centuries by the church. “Merton was not very popular with many of the older monks and was considered a rebel because ‘he told [them] that [they] were not contemplatives. [They] were just introverts saying prayers all day’ . . . You can imagine how well that was received.”

Rohr is “convinced that many, many young seekers left seminaries, ministry, religious orders, and convents basically because no one taught them how to pray!  Without a contemplative life, poverty, chastity, obedience, and community itself do not work or even make sense. And ministry becomes another way of running away or trying to find yourself instead of real service for others.”

The Christian contemplative tradition stretches back to the earliest church Fathers and Mothers who in the 4th century fled to the desert “so they could practice what they felt was authentic Christianity, unhindered by the priorities of the new imperial religion that was based largely on externals.”

Your public and your church library will have books on mysticism. Mystics teach us that prayer is not about what we say to God but what we receive from God, Love that enables us to move beyond judging and labeling, Love that enables us to love God, the human race and all of nature.

A reporter once asked Mother Teresa, “When you pray, what do you say?”

She replied, “Nothing; I listen.”

“What do you hear?” asked the reporter.

“Nothing. God listens,” she answered.

The daily meditations Rohr sends out through email seek to teach the contemplative tradition and offer thoughtful analysis of Biblical and Church teachings. It is not a new way of looking at Christianity, but a very old way of experiencing Christ. Jesus taught his disciples to pray. We highly recommend this daily food for thought, action and prayer.  Sign up for free at https://cac.org/sign-up/

 

By Eleanor Johnston and Wayne Fraser, originally published at http://niagaraanglican.ca/newspaper/docs/2017/may.pdf   p.4.

 

 


Visiting Churches: ‘He grows up, doesn’t he?’

Posted on: April 26th, 2017 by Wayne Fraser No Comments

At the start of another church service where our role was to babysit while the parents were guest musicians, our four-year old granddaughter was somewhat distressed to be hearing, once again, “Once in Royal David’s City.” She rose from her seat at the “kids zone,” walked tentatively toward us and asked in a worried voice: “He grows up, doesn’t he?” We were amazed to be asked this by such a young child, but relieved that our one-word assurance was accepted so readily.

We all grow in wisdom and stature, don’t we? Asking questions is what we’re doing a lot of these days. Since last summer we have visited a number of churches from Niagara to Toronto, primarily Anglican, but also a couple of United Churches. We are not commissioned to be “the inspector,” as one person worriedly assumed. We are sincerely looking to see what’s out there and how others are worshipping. We’ve looked at services from small, early morning ones to big churches, from urban to rural, from regular Sunday services to weekday Taizé. Here’s some of what we found.

First, every church welcomed us warmly as we arrived and included us in exchanging the Peace. The most effective greeting for Eleanor, a relatively shy person, occurred when we arrived at a church and the warden on duty whisked Wayne away to the priest’s office to prepare for the service. Eleanor was “adopted” by another warden who asked her whether she wanted to sit near the front, the middle or the back. The warden escorted her to that pew and explained who was who, when to stand/sit/kneel and when to use green book, hymnal and bulletin. She remained by her side until she was settled at the coffee hour, coffee and cookie in hand, in conversation with others.

Most parishioners are truly proud of their church and its identity and areas of expertise, from liturgy to outreach. The priest is glad to welcome a fellow-priest. Worship in every church was done thoughtfully and prayerfully, effectively creating a spiritual atmosphere and experience.

Our primary observation is that, to many Anglican churches, “contemporary liturgy” means the Eucharistic service starting on page 185 in the BAS. Certainly it is more modern than that found on page 230, based as it is on the BCP. However, to be contemporary, of the 21st century, means to reflect that we live in a wholly different landscape with a different understanding of what’s happening in our world and in the universe than is reflected in either BAS or BCP.

Some churches, we discovered, offer, with the Bishop’s permission, liturgy created in the here and now, written by clergy and a worship team. They pray for guidance as they incorporate new ideas and language from a variety of sources, including the internet, rituals of other faiths and other wisdoms, both ecumenical and interfaith. No BAS or BCP in sight; the service is fully printed in a bulletin or flashed on a screen.

Nor is the pipe organ the dominant instrument. Churches use a variety of music—piano, keyboard, guitar, bands, hymns, gospel songs, and pop songs. Old words with new tunes and new words with old tunes take the place of familiar prayers and rituals. When it comes to changing ideas, expressing them in song seems the best vehicle.

Yes, He grows up and so do we. “Life-changing worship” is happening in a few churches exploring a “culture of innovation” in liturgy. Maybe what scared our granddaughter were the words, “Christian children all should be kind, obedient, good as he.”

by Eleanor Johnston and Wayne Fraser

First published, http://niagaraanglican.ca/newspaper/docs/2017/apr.pdf  (p. 9)


Change or Atrophy—Today’s Choice

Posted on: January 27th, 2017 by Wayne Fraser No Comments

Having questioned the Creeds in the October issue of Niagara Anglican, we thought we would follow up with what we believe. We worship God who created all things, follow Jesus who is our teacher, healer and friend, and hear the Holy Spirit who communicates all we need to know and do.

There are many ways of understanding, worshipping and serving. Wherever we are on the theological spectrum, we all need the courage, theological understanding and common sense necessary to tackle the great and inevitable changes and challenges facing our religious institutions today.

The concept of Original Sin is the key to obsolete beliefs including propitiatory sacrifice and substitutionary atonement. Likewise, to blame afflicted people for their personal torments is presumptuous in the extreme. God did not create us evil and prone to diseases as punishment for our fallen state. Humanity is not fallen.

Original Sin is not a concept even mentioned in the Bible. Original Blessing, its opposite, is, yet we allow ourselves to be “guilted” about Jesus dying for our sins. Instead, we see the Bible’s claim that God created the human race, all other species, our habitats and “saw that they were very good.”

The God we worship and serve is not an old man living above the clouds. We can call ourselves “a-theists,” people who do not worship a human-like, a human-made God. Many who have left church have done so because of the traditional image of God. Non-theism for most of us still attending church, is uncharted territory, a new theological creation. Who or what do we worship?

We must start with a humble reading of the New Testament, with the brilliant hope, peace, joy and love put before us by Jesus. We experience God as an evolving Ground of Being, and the key word is evolution. Here’s where the most radical concept comes in: God is Love, is giving and receiving. God plunges into the breakdown of humanity’s connection to creation as Love in our loving.

We seek the wisdom and faith to explore our human understandings of God, for kindred spirits of other world religions, and for this fragile earth, our island home. We see the destruction of the ecosystems and the mass extinctions of fellow creatures as crimes against God and all creation. We believe in caring for all species of creatures and their habitats. We welcome interfaith peace and inclusive justice for all.

A new era of Christianity is here and now but many are afraid to acknowledge it. It is here in our ecumenical and interfaith worship. We must give up our fantasy that Christianity is superior to other religions. People of all faiths have in common an evolving experience of the Divine.

True worship does not care a whit for the forms of our rituals. God gives no one the right to be militant. Jesus commands us to love God, our neighbours and ourselves. Change is difficult, in anything we do. It seems especially challenging in matters of faith.

We must, however, change or atrophy. Instead of condoning all the fears, threats and guilt induced in the past, let us rejoice in the complexity, beauty and mystery of all creation. All people come from God, we are imitators of Emmanuel, and we are co-workers with the Holy Spirit.

For the beauty of the Earth,
sing oh sing today.
Of the sky and of our birth,
sing oh sing today.
Nature human and divine,
all around us lies.
Lord of all, to thee we raise
grateful hymns of praise.

–Paul Winter, Missa Gaia

First published, http://niagaraanglican.ca/newspaper/docs/2017/feb.pdf  (page 6)

 


The Creed’s Credibility

Posted on: December 27th, 2016 by Eleanor Johnston No Comments

In each of the six Niagara churches where we have worshipped, Wayne as interim priest and Eleanor as chorister, a few parishioners have expressed their difficulties with the content of the Nicene Creed.

Picture this: a diligent, positive parishioner asks to see Wayne and sets a time and date. When he arrives, he closes the door, locks it, takes a seat and confesses: “I feel guilty for doubting the Nicene Creed.”

What a relief! He isn’t suffering from cancer or about to lose his job. Theology? Let’s talk. First of all, however, he needs to be heard: “The Creed is not even in the Bible. It’s all about levels of power. This isn’t what Jesus is all about. The word love isn’t even in the creed! And God doesn’t sit on the clouds, for heaven’s sake! Most of what I believe is reflected in the hymns and the sermons, but I have to tune out when we get to the Creed. I can say about half the words. What’s wrong with me? Am I still a Christian?”

The first response must affirm his doubting faith. Jesus helped Thomas when he experienced doubt. Questioning faith is an opportunity for growth in faith. Freaking out at doubters is singularly unhelpful. We, too, are uncomfortable reciting the Nicene Creed every Sunday. ‘Uncomfortable?’ That’s an understatement.

An active lay person in another parish told how, in a conversation with the priest and his assistant, she had expressed similar doubts. Both men harangued her and insisted that until she took a Bishop’s Diploma Course and reconsidered her faith, she could no longer function as lay reader. When two ordained men gang up on a single lay woman, forcefully telling her that she must believe every word of the Creed to be a Christian, that is bullying—at such a moment, the Creed loses its credibility.

Why is the weekly repetition of the Nicene Creed so important? The ritual must have some meaning for parishioners, and we get that. The difficulty arises with those who are inflexible, who insist that it must be spoken at every Eucharist. Alternate creeds like the Apostles Creed or the ancient Shema are deemed second-rate. And Heaven help us if an experimental liturgy uses contemporary language to reflect today’s spirituality!

After all, the Nicene Creed was commissioned by the Emperor Constantine in 325CE. Imagine Jesus and his followers composing something similar for the Caesars in their lifetimes. Surely Jesus’ teachings as found in the Bible are more spiritual, more profound, than a Roman Emperor’s plans to make Christianity the state religion. This elevated status undermined the radical theology of Jesus which challenged Rome’s violent suppression of its conquered people.

There’s just so much old science reflected in the Creed that does not jive with what we know today about the universe. The ancient concept of a three-tiered world, to begin with. And a flat earth.

The Nicene Creed teaches us to believe in “one holy, catholic and apostolic Church.” Is that in the Bible? No. What good does it do? It does not make much difference to most people’s lives. If we are still considering the role of the Nicene Creed in the Christian church after 1700 years, still fretting about ideologies, we have missed the point.

It’s more important to be like Jesus than to repeat words about Jesus. Faith is not recitation of words but living the Word, following the Way of Jesus. Instead of reciting a creed, we should be helping, praying, learning, teaching and curing in Jesus’ name. Jesus did not tell us to believe in concepts but to trust in Him, in the Father, in the way of the Kingdom.

by Eleanor Johnston and Wayne Fraser

first published, October 2016, http://niagaraanglican.ca/newspaper/docs/2016/oct.pdf


The lost correspondence of Malcolm Cowley and Ernest Hemingway

Posted on: July 23rd, 2016 by Wayne Fraser 3 Comments

I just returned from attending the 17th Biennial International Hemingway conference, held this time in Chicago. I had the privilege of presenting the attached paper about the relationship between writer and critic Malcolm Cowley and Ernest Hemingway.  Hem_Cow presentation


A review from Vienna on Amazon

Posted on: November 15th, 2015 by Eleanor Johnston 1 Comment

Churchland is a book to curl up on the couch and read when you feel good. Characters are portrayed that are people we all know in our daily lives; Eleanor Johnston has created a story we can all imagine ourselves living.
This is a story that presents great characters, great conversations, lovely word painting of the southern Ontario region of Jordan in the snow storm and lovely portrayals of the relationships between sisters, children and parents, between colleagues and between friends.
Marcia’s lesson of having to listen and be compassionate with everyone and how necessary it is to take the time to do that is a lesson we have all had to learn in our lives.

Another feel-good aspect was reading about the enjoyment of sharing meals together… blueberry pancake breakfasts, spontaneous evening meals, and raising glasses with friends.
Here is raising a glass to Churchland!


“All is forgiven” First, the good news

Posted on: January 15th, 2015 by Eleanor Johnston No Comments

re The Globe and Mail Thurs Jan 15

The Good News—”All is forgiven”

On Wednesday January 14, a week after the terrorist attack on the headquarters of the atheist satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, the surviving workers of this magazine published their first issue. On the front cover is a cartoon of the weeping prophet Mohammed holding a sign saying “Je suis Charlie” (“I am Charlie”) under a headline proclaiming “Tout est pardonne,” (“All is forgiven.”)

What was the reaction to this profound gesture? My eyes filled with tears of joy and pity that this satirical victim of a horrible attack would respond with spiritual grace, reaching out to all, forgiving all. It could have been Jesus (Je suis) forgiving the attackers, speaking from the cross, identifying with “Charlie,” the victimized magazine. By publishing another drawing of Mohammed, the magazine bravely asserted its right to free speech. But it showed Mohammed grieving for both atheists such as the magazine Charlie and the murderous wrong of his followers’ attack.

I expected and hoped that “The National” would lead with this good news last night, but it didn’t. Instead we had the usual pessimistic violence.

I expected and hoped that “The Globe and Mail” would lead with this good news this morning. I had to look for it in the online edition. The Pope was to be seen urging “Muslim leaders to  condemn religious-based violence.” Good for him!

The magazine’s lawyer is quoted saying that the magazine “will include other cartoons featuring the Prophet Mohammed and also making fun of  politicians and other religions.” Really, that cover was just a joke???

That depends on whether we see goodness in this world, or only evil. “For the past week, Charlie, an atheist newspaper, has achieved more miracles than all the saints and prophets combined,” reads the lead editorial in the new issue.